Sign Language Interpreting at Music Events

Sign Language Interpreting at Music Events

Sign language interpreters are becoming an increasingly common sight at major music events. The trend was brought to global attention by American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego, who signed Kendrick Lamar’s entire Lollapalooza set back in 2013.

More recently, festivalgoers will have noticed British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter Tara Asher enthusiastically signing Stormzy’s headline slot on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage.

So why is it only now that these interpreters are coming into focus?

Big Rise in Deaf Live Music Attendees

Around 1 in every 6 people suffer from some form of hearing loss, and yet, until recently, live music venues and festivals did very little to make their shows accessible to deaf individuals.

Despite these challenges, the number of deaf customers buying tickets to live music events is continuing to increase. Well in excess of 3 million deaf and disabled fans attend these types of events every year, and disabled ticket sales rose by 70% alone in 2016.

It seems that these figures have brought deaf music fans to a critical mass and concert venues and festivals are now scrambling to make their events more accessible.

With interpreters now a much more common sight at live music performances, many are still unaware of what goes into the preparation for such a performance.

How do Sign Language Interpreters Prepare for a Live Music Event?

Preparation for delivering such a performance for deaf music fans starts weeks before the performance. Interpreters have to listen to an act’s songs on repeat until they know the words to every song just as well as the singer of the songs themselves.

For some events such as Lollapalooza (which has been a leader in making music festivals more accessible), there is an application process whereby interpreters submit videos of themselves signing songs of the performing artists and a panel of experts decides who is the best fit for which act.

In other cases, such as Stormzy, there is a much smaller pool to choose from, with only 4 BSL interpreters specialising in Grime.

Once chosen, interpreters then translate the songs and rehearse much in the same way the performing act does. In the case of Tara Asher, she says that “I spend approximately one day per song translating it”.

Once translated, the interpreters will perform the songs many times over to perfect them. According to interpreter Kelly Sosebee, it’s just like rehearsing a dance, “You just practice your ass off over and over again until it becomes second nature.”

During the translation process, signers need to decide how much they are going to translate directly, and how much they are going to convey as an emotion rather than delivering it word-for-word.

This is especially true for rap music since words are delivered so quickly that it’s impossible to sign everything.

But deciding the translation is just the first of many challenges sign language interpreters face.

What Challenges Do Sign Language Interpreters Face?

It’s one thing to learn and translate of all an artist’s songs, but imagine turning up on stage not knowing what you are going to sing?

That’s exactly what many sign language interpreters have to deal with, as set lists are often closely-guarded secrets, and acts aren’t always forthcoming with releasing them to interpreters.

What’s more, sometimes artists deviate from the agreed set list or decide to perform an impromptu song, throwing a curveball at sign language interpreters who have to do their best to adapt to the situation.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, interpreters also sign all the ad-libbed chats and audience interaction in between songs so that deaf fans don’t miss out.

Whilst most if not all concertgoers would agree with making an artist’s musical performances accessible, unfortunately not all artists agree.

Marie Pascall, who is the director of Performance Interpreting, reported once instance where “an act refused to have the interpreter on stage, and then refused for the interpreter to sign any of their performance”.

Therefore, sometimes it’s even a huge challenge just to gain the ability to sign a concert to fans in the first place.

Which Events Provide Sign Language Interpreters?

Encouragingly, there are an increasing number of events that are providing this facility to their deaf fans.

In the UK this summer there will be sign language interpreters at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds Festival, and Latitude. Whereas across the pond, the trailblazing Lollapalooza will once again be offering this service as will the Bonnaroo festival.

However, concert venues are still lagging behind with 80% of deaf and disabled fans having accessibility issues when booking their music tickets. Although many venues are starting to follow the example of festivals and provide interpreters upon request.

Make Your Event More Accessible

By providing sign language interpreters, the major festivals listed above have made themselves more accessible to millions of deaf music fans up and down the country.

Whilst there’s certainly a lot of work still to be done in making live music accessible for the deaf, you can make a positive step for your event, meeting, or conference, by having a BSL interpreter on hand to deliver your message to deaf attendees.

At K International, we can provide BSL interpreters for a wide variety of events, and even for services such as signing on company videos.

We can provide BSL interpreters to locations all over the UK and all of our linguists are CACDP (The Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People) approved and registered. We also offer CRB and CTC clearance on request if required.

So if you’re ready to make your event more accessible get in touch with a member of our team today to arrange your BSL interpreter.